How Alzheimer's can touch a family
By Echelle, Pure Matters
In retrospect, we should have noticed and paid closer attention when my mom failed her driving test 15 years ago. No one paid attention to her reaction of not passing the test, either. She was rather nonchalant about it, and wasn't interested in trying to re-test. This was a woman who'd loved driving my dad's sports car more than he did. She loved driving and driving fast. My mother was 64 years old when she failed her driving test; now, at 78, she is a fully progressed Alzheimer's patient. I guess because no one else in our family had ever suffered from the disease, and because it really wasn't a well-known disease back then like it is today, we just didn't know to look for any signs and didn't think much of it.
The second big sign we did pay attention to, though. My grandmother was packing up to move herself into an apartment where she could remain independent but also get assistance when she needed it. My mother went to help her pack. My grandmother called the next day, very upset because my mother was packing and unpacking the same things; putting things in boxes, then taking them back out. My grandmother was upset because she didn't understand what her daughter was doing. After years of tests, medications, more tests and consultations, the prognosis was pretty clear. My mother had developed Alzheimer's.
Our family is South American, and like many South American families, putting a family member into a home just isn't an option. Fortunately, there are enough of us kids (6 in all) to spread the caregiving of our mother around. My mom lives in California with my sister, who bares the brunt of the caregiver responsibility. For the rest of us kids, caring for my mom was pretty clumsy at first, but we gradually fell into a good pattern of traveling to California to help out with our mom's care and to give my sister some needed breaks.
We all show our love and care in different ways. When my oldest sister spends time with Mom, they usually take walks, or go driving and exploring -- things that they have always enjoyed doing together. My mom doesn't ever nap in the car, so my sister uses these times to engage her in conversation. My sister Caren loves to play checkers and bingo with Mom, so they usually play board games together (my mom wins every time!). When I hang out with Mom, I carry over my regular work into my caring for her: I focus on her nutrition (I've even got her doing "green shots" -- drinking juiced greens -- with me) and I also like to focus on her physical activity. We walk, and we do gentle yoga together.
One of my best friend's mother also developed Alzheimer's. Her mother lives in Japan and is apart from my friend and the rest of her children. She has had the disease for approximately half the amount of time as my mother. When we compare notes, my friend is always really surprised that my mother is not far more progressed than she is, as her mother is demonstrating very progressed Alzheimer's symptoms. The only difference that I see in our situations is that while my mother is in the constant care of a family member who loves her, my friend's mother is in the care of many professionals who are not related to her. My very unscientific theory is that this disease's progression in consuming my mother has been slowed down because we are very deliberate in engaging her in stories about herself -- her past and the person that we knew as our mother. Because a close family member is always with her, she gets to hold on to some of the familiar. This keeps the disease contained.
My mother is very special to me. To all of us. I know that when I say we hope to keep her as happy and healthy and present as we possibly can for as long as we can, I'm speaking for the rest of her children as well.